There was an interesting article over on Light Reading yesterday by Craig Matsumoto, citing an industry source who said that sometime last year Akamai (NASDAQ:AKAM, news, filings) got into a tiff with three French ISPs, two of which were supposedly Orange and SFR. As the story goes, Akamai refused to pay more and got the boot and had to serve data from the UK for a while, though the disagreement was later resolved. An Akamai representative quickly disputed the account in the comments following the article, but without actually denying there was some sort of dust-up.
The truth? We'll probably never know, as both sides have incentive to keep quiet in the event of such disputes. Akamai wouldn't want to sound like their delivery speeds are at risk relative to their peers, and the ISPs wouldn't want to publicize their efforts to get paid more for delivering video bits. Level 3 is making noise over its dispute with Comcast, but they did so only while agreeing to pay under protest, and they are a tier-1 carrier with different leverage. But most such disputes fly under the radar anyway, and far more of them occur than people realize.
Nevertheless, I chalk up the fact that this story even exists as more evidence that the relationship between networks (CDN or transit) which serve the content providers and networks which serve consumers is under strain. I continue to maintain that this is an inevitable migration of the network neutrality mess further up the chain of delivery, and it stands to change the existing transit/peering/caching paradigm irreversibly over the next few years.
The Level3/Comcast dispute is the most public example of course, and how it turns out will set the tone going forward. Note that in the Akamai/France rumor, the CDN was described as falling back to serving data from the UK, likely via transit connectivity. Delivery would have been slower, but the French ISPs would have seen the same traffic with no revenue - a bit of shared pain and then after resolution a bit of shared benefit. Imagine if Comcast gets all it wants - that backup plan might have become much more expensive to the CDN and not at all painful to the ISP.
Sooner or later, a dispute like this is going to devolve into a network partition. That's when people will pay attention I guess.